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Roe at 40: Still divided

Representatives for the Pro-Life Action League march Saturday near Planned Parenthood. Today is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
Representatives for the Pro-Life Action League march Saturday near Planned Parenthood. Today is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

A cool wind buffeted a small group of protesters who marched in the pale sunshine of a January morning. Their signs proclaimed their opposition to abortion: “Moms for life.” “Dads for life.” “Stop abortion now.” “Planned Parenthood lies to you.”

Their presence near the Planned Parenthood clinic in Aurora on Saturday was the first part of their annual observance of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Batavia resident Kathy Callahan said she was protesting “because I think that abortion is the killing of innocent babies, and I’m against killing babies.”

It is the 40th anniversary of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion rights for women, and those opposed to abortion are as steadfast as ever – but so are those who favor abortion rights, such as Geneva resident Beth Willadsen.

“In my opinion, thank God it’s legal,” Willadsen, 52, said. “I can’t imagine being in a situation where I’d have to make that decision. But if it’s a decision that needs to be made, you should have safe medical care. I’m just ... doing everything I can to make sure Roe v. Wade stays the law of the land.”

And so there is the divide.

“It’s a very sad thing for America to have 40 years of killing innocent children,” Callahan said.

During the protest, Geneva resident Karen Moore came back from a short break to rejoin the marchers.

“I’m here to pray for mothers, for families, for babies, for everyone involved in the abortion industry,” Moore said. “My heart goes out to everyone, and I’m hoping that [through] the results of our presence, we can make a difference; we can save children in the Fox Valley area.”

Batavia resident Kathleen Dietz, the Respect Life coordinator at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Batavia, said she – along with others from her church – will be bound for Washington, D.C., for March for Life later this week.

Twenty-five parishioners plan to go with five buses leaving the Rockford diocese Wednesday.

“I don’t think it’s ever OK to have an abortion,” Dietz, 48, said. “I don’t think we have the right to go ahead and kill another human being. To me, the issue is black and white. You can’t kill another human being.”

• • •

In its landmark decision, the high court ruled that women have a right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. And that restrictions on a woman’s right to abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy were unconstitutional.

The court also found that states have an interest in regulating abortion for the protection of women’s health.

“Roe v. Wade is about privacy more than abortion,” Willadsen said. “I don’t care if [a surgery] is a tonsillectomy, a toenail removal or an abortion – it’s nobody else’s business. We have consciences for a reason. We can’t live our lives by other people’s consciences.”

Willadsen said she wants to see an emphasis on preventing pregnancies, which would reduce abortions.

“Procreation is such a major thing to do; people should be taking that a lot more seriously,” Willadsen said. “It’s a choice. People need to make the choice to get pregnant – that is where the real choice should be. Beyond that, it’s nobody’s business.”

Willadsen said if she were counter-protesting, her sign would read: Right to private life.

• • •

Despite being vilified by the anti-abortion movement, Pam Sutherland, vice president for public policy for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said the organization devotes 90 percent of its services to health issues other than abortion.

These include cervical cancer screenings, breast cancer screenings, treatment and counseling for sexually transmitted diseases. And as of the past six months, the Aurora clinic does nonsurgical vasectomies.

Sutherland said in the years before Roe, birth control and access to it was a problem for women.

“Birth control was just made legal in 1965 for married women. It was the first time women had access to a reliable contraceptive,” Sutherland said. “Roe happened because they were not that reliable. … Roe opened up a whole new discussion.”

Women needed better access to birth control and more information, she said, adding this has led to abortion numbers going down steadily in the past 10 to 15 years.

And these days, more women seek long-acting birth control, IUDs and implants that last three to five years.

“They never have to remember to come every three months and get their Depo-Provera shot or, ‘I forgot to take my pill.’ ” Sutherland said. “It reduces unintended pregnancies. Most women seek abortions for unintended pregnancies … regardless of all their protests, we are still the ones [whose] services are reducing the need for abortion.”

• • •

William Beckman, president of Illinois Right to Life, said contraception actually increases the need for abortion.

“If you do it long enough, it always fails and you end up with an abortion anyway,” Beckman said.

But other than challenging contraception, casual sex and promoting sexual abstinence until marriage, Beckman said maybe the anti-abortion movement cannot overturn Roe.

“Forty years is very important,” Beckman said. “It’s time to change things, but not do it politically. We can do it other ways. We can change people’s hearts.”

What the movement has is a younger generation, he said.

“They are all born after 1973,” Beckman said. “Their T-shirts will say, ‘I survived Roe v. Wade, but it will not survive me. It will be ended.’ That is a powerful slogan.”

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